20 La Liga Players to Watch out for in 2014
Footballers, at the end of the day, as they might say, are only humans like you and me. And for that reason they’ll be pinpointing the new year as their chance to shine.
Up and down Spain, players will be looking to improve their fitness, score more goals and write more headlines with the aim of leaving their mark in 2014.
The following slides look at one player from each side who could be set for a big 12 months.
Players that have already made their names at their current clubs or are already considered as having made it have been left out.
Who? Suso (Almeria)
An obvious choice from Almeria, but few could argue Suso is the right one. On loan from Liverpool, Suso has shown glimpses of the potential he possesses, although he is still striving for the consistency which will lead to him breaking into the Liverpool team.
When Almeria have played well this season, the 20-year-old has more often than not been at the heart of it. The next 12 months will be vital in revealing just how big this kid’s future is in football.
Athletic Club Bilbao
Who? Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Club Bilbao)
Streams of talent continue to emerge from Athletic’s cantera, most of whom form the spine of their first team. Players like Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera have enhanced their reputations in recent seasons, with Aymeric Laporte looking like he's doing the same in 2014.
Last year was the year which allowed the 19-year-old to break into the team, and the next 12 months look like the time in which the defender, who’s played left and centrally this season, will become a household name in European football.
Who? Oliver Torres (Atletico Madrid)
The last 12 months have seen a whole selection of Atletico Madrid players rise to the top of the kingdom of football. Diego Costa and Koke’s form have been the most spectacular, but players like Thibaut Courtois, Miranda and Filipe Luis continue to play their part too.
It means that one of Spain’s highest-rated youngsters has had to wait in the wings. Midfielder Oliver Torres is a silky midfielder, one who can create space from nothing and thread a pass through the eye of the needle. He’ll turn 20 in 2014, could it be his year?
Who? Neymar (Barcelona)
There are not many players still striving to make their name at Barcelona, but there is one standout candidate when it comes to looking ahead to the next 12 months in Catalunya: Neymar.
The Brazilian arrived in the summer and has already taken strides to justify the hype which surrounded his arrival; however, he can still get better. With Barca still competing on three fronts and a World Cup in Brazil around the corner, 2014 is set up to be remembered as Neymar’s year.
Who? Hugo Mallo (Celta Vigo)
In truth 2013 was set to be Hugo Mallo’s year, but he was struck down with an injury, which led to him missing most of the calendar year. He’s now firmly established back in the Celta Vigo team and ready to kick on this year.
A right-back with great concentration, who is strong in the tackle and can attack too—Luis Enrique may struggle to keep him in Galicia beyond the summer if he stays fit and healthy.
Who? Alberto Botia (Elche)
A lot has been expected from Alberto Botia’s career due to the La Masia tag he has carried around with him. After leaving Barcelona he was impressive in a Sporting Gijon side which was eventually relegated; however, Sevilla swooped in to keep him in La Liga.
It didn’t quite work out for him at Sevilla, though, but he’s beginning to look good again, having been loaned to Elche this season. Heading toward his mid-20s, the next 12 months will be a good indicator of where Botia’s future lies.
Who? David Lopez (Espanyol)
David Lopez has been one of the signings of the season as far as Espanyol are concerned—the midfielder returning from a spell on loan with Huesca last season.
His partnership with Victor Sanchez in Javier Aguirre’s double pivot has been one of the most impressive aspects of a side that has beaten Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao at home. Strong as an ox and ever-improving on the ball, Lopez looks set for a big year.
Who? Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Luis Garcia’s Getafe side is built on experienced, solid professionals. You’d be surprised at how many players in his squad are aged either 28 or 29 and, at 21 years of age, Pablo Sarabia is the youngest player by three years to play for the Madrid-based club this year in La Liga.
He’s not bad, either, if a little bit inconsistent. At his best he’s an assist machine, notably for Spain U21s and in a recent cameo against Espanyol; at his worst he’s a ghost—Garcia will be hoping for the former this year.
Who? Youssef El-Arabi (Granada)
He’s got pace, strength and is a good height; on paper Youssef El-Arabi is a striker to strike fear into La Liga’s defenders. Unfortunately, he turns up for too infrequently.
Already the scorer of six goals for Granada this season, the hope is for the Moroccan to at least hit double figures. However, a worrying pattern emerges when you look at when his goals came—three in one game, two in another. If he can find that form every week in 2014…
Who? Ruben Garcia (Levante)
Position: Attacking midfielder
As with Pablo Sarabia at Getafe, Ruben Garcia is a young head in an experienced squad at Levante. He’s the only player under 25 to have started a game for the Valencia-based club in the Primera Division so far this season.
He’s extremely talented, though. The 20-year-old is a hard-working winger who can also play centrally, and he will surely be watched by Spain’s, and quite possibly Europe’s, bigger clubs.
Who? Willy Caballero (Malaga)
Bernd Schuster, to his credit, is trying to bring through some young talent at Malaga. Sergi Darder, 20, has been a regular this season, while Fabrice Olinga, 17, and Robert Chen, 19, have also received minutes in La Liga.
However, it’s an old head that needs watching on Spain’s south coast. Goalkeeper Willy Caballero produced top performance after top performance, and if he ever gets tired of doing it at La Rosaleda there will be a few clubs keen on snapping him up.
Who? Alejandro Arribas (Osasuna)
Osasuna have got the best defence in La Liga’s bottom six, and Alejandro Arribas has to be named as one of the main reasons why.
The 24-year-old centre-back was part of a side that locked out Barcelona in October, and he’s only expected to get better throughout his 25th year. Signed from Rayo Vallecano in 2012, a club like Valencia could do worse than keep tabs on this gem.
Who? Saul Niguez (Rayo Vallecano)
Unfortunately for Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez is only on loan from Atletico Madrid. Fortunately for Rayo Vallecano, they’ve got Saul Niguez on loan until the end of the season.
Niguez is part of an impressive crop of Atleti youngsters—including Oliver Torres and Javier Manquillo—and has demonstrated his potential in the suburbs of Madrid this season. Sat in midfield, the 19-year-old has unveiled a string of impressive performances which have belied his years.
Who? Alvaro Vadillo (Real Betis)
Pepe Mel led Real Betis into the Europa League last season; however, he’s since departed and the Seville-based side are currently at the bottom of La Liga. They’ll be hoping some of their more talented players can come of age in 2014.
One of those is 19-year-old winger Alvaro Vadillo. He was linked with Arsenal and Tottenham in the summer by John Cross of the Mirror and has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo’s style of play. He’s yet to really make an impact in the first team, though, so the next 12 months should prove interesting.
Who? Jese Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
Jese Rodriguez scored Real Madrid’s last goal of 2013, against Valencia, and their first goal of 2014 in a friendly match against PSG. Could this be his year?
He seems to be preferred ahead of Alvaro Morata at the moment, and Los Blancos are desperate for an academy product to come good. Jese ticks all the boxes: He’s quick, direct, tough and has a history of scoring goals.
Who? Ruben Pardo (Real Sociedad)
There hasn’t been a shortage of talented players making their name at Real Sociedad recently. Asier Illarramendi left for Real Madrid last summer, Inigo Martinez is expected to be the next out, and Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela have been excellent.
However, the hope in San Sebastian is that it’s another youngster who can have a big year in 2014. Ruben Pardo is a ball-playing midfielder who has long been tipped to have a bright future; it looks like it could be his year.
Who? Patrick Ebert (Real Valladolid)
Patrick Ebert has been, without doubt, Real Valladolid’s most impressive player since they returned to La Liga last season. Unfortunately for the German wide man, he’s struggled far too much with injuries during his stay in Spain.
With his contract up in the summer, he needs to prove that he can stay fit to secure a new deal—if not with Valladolid then with another club. It won’t help that he begins 2014 sidelined with a knock.
Who? Carlos Bacca (Sevilla)
There are a few players who could make an impression in Unai Emery’s Sevilla side over the next 12 months. Vicente Iborra is developing into a reliable midfielder, Jairo possesses bags of pace and Alberto Moreno has just broke into the Spain team. Ivan Rakitic has already made his mark.
It means that eyes fall upon Colombian striker Carlos Bacca. The 27-year-old ended 2013 in a rich vein of form—scoring five and assisting three in his last 10 matches—and could play a big part in the league and in Europe.
Who? Sergio Canales (Valencia)
Former Real Madrid man Sergio Canales has had such bad luck with injuries throughout his career, twice being struck down by a cruciate ligament rupture among other problems.
Now at Valencia and still only 22, he has at last remained injury free for Los Che since October. An attacking midfielder who can drift across and between lines, a fully fit Canales could be key to a successful reign for new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Who? Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal)
Villarreal have enjoyed a successful return to La Liga, following their hiatus to La Segunda, and a lot of that success can be attributed to the experience of players like Bruno Soriano and Cani. However, the Yellow Submarine also possess a crop of talented younger players.
Among them is 23-year-old defender Mateo Musacchio. The Argentine arrived from River Plate in 2009, and if rumours are to be believed—like this one from Colin Harvey of the Express, linking him with Barcelona—then he might not end 2014 wearing a yellow shirt.